Sujatha Bagal

Stories and essays on food, travel, culture.

What makes a community?

A weekly “compact” newspaper called Bangalore BIAS is all set to be launched in Bangalore at the end of this month.

This is what the founders have to say about the purpose of their compact (not really sure what that means, but I’m sure I’ll find out):

The time has come to ask, “Whose city is it, anyway?”

Leaving out some of the usual cliches, we could still yearn for a city that used to be,

where there was time and space for libraries, literary debates, science fairs, Sunday beers, bicycles, Karaga, Christmas carols, kadalekaayi parise, jazz evenings, dolls’ exhibitions and the grace of it all. In a city of seven million, there should still be that “Island of One Million” that knows what Bangalore was, but more crucially to the point, what it ought to be. We believe this community of one million cares for a lifestyle of grace and charm beyond the transactional logic that threatens to become the sole basis of our civic society.

This is the communiuty that is conscious of a heritage that makes Bangalore the liberal urban space that it derserves to be….It is conscious of the founders of the great legacy of science and technology. It understands there is only one way into the future Bangalore can enjoy its legacy of the city cosmopolitan – by being cosmopolitan.

[…….]

The Bangalore community could well feel that it is now under seige. The City’s sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitude and affectations. There are new people that now claim to represent Bangalore, but the Bangalore community is justified in feeling unrepresented.

[…….]

The direction and magnitude of the City’s growth are not representative of the community’s will or aspirations….There is chaos in the streets, panic at homes and distress in the community.

[……]

But there will be the Bangalore community that will contunue to believe that Bangalore is a City whose future could be magnificent, a natural outcome of its history and an exemplar of the future cities of the world.

Bangalore Bias looks to speak for and with this community.

I must say, the dichotomy between the Bangalore of 15 years ago and the Bangalore of today is something that you cannot escape. But Bangalore Bias’ mission statement raises a question, or two.

First, who or what makes up a city? A city is a living, changing, amorphous creature that cannot be frozen in time and that image taken to be its true representation. “Whose city is it, anyway?” Well, it is the city of every single person living here, whether they landed here yesterday at the airport, bus station or train station and are setting up homes as we speak, or whose families have been living here for generations.

The manifesto continues, “The City’s sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitudes and affectations”. The statement is not specific as to what these strains are or who is doing the invading, but again, the make-up of a city’s sensibilities is a factor of the sensibilities of all of it’s citizens at any given point in time. The sensibilities of the new comers cannot be discounted in describing a city’s flavor.

Ironically, the most striking sensibility of this city has been its arms-open-wide welcome it affords to anyone coming here, whether from Tamil Nadu or Andhra or Maharashtra or America or Africa, whether a menial laborer or a billion-dollar multinational company. This is the sensibility that will take Bangalore to take its place as “an exemplar of the future cities of the world”. Just as a community cannot thrive by supressing a portion of its members, so cannot a city thrive by negating the contributions of a portion of its citizenry, newcomers or not.

And these are not small contributions, mind you. The newcomers to this city are, each in his own way, contributing to the financial health of this city. The companies are bringing jobs, jobs are bringing people, people are bringing money that they are spending in the shops and theaters and restaurants, and the money is bringing construction, and more jobs. I dare say that the companies are also driving a lot of the improvements that we are seeing in the city today (Bannerghatta Road being a fine example, perhaps the only one of public-private partnership in Bangalore).

It is this financial health that will encourage people to look beyond their immediate basic necessities and move on to the dolls’ exhibitions and jazz festivals and Sunday beers and the lifestyle of “grace” and “charm”. And why blame the newcomers for these habits fading away? Why did this “community” of one million let go of that lifestyle in the first place? May be it’s because all the old timers, who had property in the heart of Bangalore city, in Charmarajpet and Basavangudi and Gandhi Bazar have sold out to the highest bidder (in bidding wars brought on by the IT boom) and are now living out in what used to be the boonies and find it too far to make it to the dolls’ exhibitions.

I do agree that as new people come in, and as a city grows to accomodate them, there is a definite strain on the infrastructure and resources. Moreover, from a newcomer’s point of view, as I know from personal experience, it is very difficult to profess knowledge of a community’s various concerns within the first few days of moving in. It takes months, even years, to understand the nuances that are at play in any community. There is bound to be that initial period of tension. But once you feel even half comfortable in any sorroundings, you look around, make friends and jump right in. That’s human nature. (Why do I feel like I’m writing about my blogging community as well?)

There is no reason to believe that the newcomers do not have an equal interest in having a rounded, complete, fulfilling life in the city they have chosen to make their home. Newcomers also definitely look for signs of welcome. If given half a chance, many of them would do just that, jump right in. They too would like to live a life of grace and charm, I assure you. They too would like to see the infrastructure improved. They too want the crime rate down. They too want fewer accidents, better schools, better transportation, fewer power cuts and water shortages, parks for their children, safe roads, and justice and liberty for all.

When I first heard about this newspaper, I was thrilled. We have Deccan Herald and The Hindu, but we could use a paper that would concentrate exclusively on Bangalore and serve as a place where all the citizenry would have a voice, I thought. Then I read the manifesto.

Yes, it is prudent to have a focus, a core clientele you are addressing when you have a product to sell, in Bias’ case the “Island of One Million” it seeks to be the voice for in a city of seven million. But does the other 6/7ths deserve to be disparaged in the process?

How fantastic it would have been if, true to Bangalore’s sensibilities, it had opened its arms wide and said, “Come, let us build a great city together!”

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This entry was posted on August 22, 2005 by in Blog, Essays and tagged , .
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